As people begin to age, practical issues begin to rear their head that nobody really contemplated before hand. Specifically, the ability of the senior to make financial or health decisions can become questionable and a conservatorship might be needed.
There is little doubt that we begin to slow down as we age. This is true
for both our physical and mental capabilities. This is never more so
the case then when people start to get into their sixties and older. The
memory starts to go. The mind starts to slow down. If things start to
degrade quickly, the issue of whether a senior has the capacity to make
decisions for themselves can lead to a conservatorship hearing.
What is a conservatorship? It is the appointment of a third person to
handle decisions for the individual in question. The decisions can be
related to medical care, financial issues or both. The conservatorship
is created by a judge during a court hearing. The conservator is often a
family member, but the court can select a third party trustee or
separate individual to handle the issues surrounding the impacted
So, what does the conservator actually do? For health decisions, the
conservator is the person authorized to give informed consent to medical
procedures such as surgeries. For financial decisions, the conservator
takes over the person's bank account, investment accounts and so on.
The conservator is not given free reign over the life of the individual
being evaluated by the court. Instead, the conservator has a duty to
make decisions in a manner that reflects the best interests of the
person in question. The specific ramifications of how this plays out is
determined state by state as conservatorship law is controlled at the
state level and each has a slightly different way of going about it.
So, what keeps the conservator from "playing funny" with the money and
such? The court will assign a second person, usually an attorney, to
oversee the decisions being made by the conservator. If the conservator
starts taking action that looks contrary to the best interests of the
individual in question, the overseeing party can alert the court.
There is no secret we have a bulge in our population known as the baby
boomers. As that bulge moves into their senior years, conservatorships
will become more and more common. If you have a senior adult in your
life, make sure you understand the basic concept and what you might be
required to get into.
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